"Brave Bessie" Coleman

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Have you ever dreamed of flying -- floating invincibly above cities and clouds, far away from the injustices on the ground?

So did Bessie Coleman.

Coleman was born in 1892 in a dirt-floored, one-room house in Atlanta, Texas, of mixed-race African-American and Cherokee descent. In 1915, when she was old enough to escape the Jim Crow South, she moved to Chicago in pursuit of "even the slightest chance to amount to something."

In Chicago, Bessie first worked as a beautician in the primarily African-American South Side. In her free time, she was an avid reader and a particular fan of the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbot for the African-American public. Bessie had the opportunity to meet Abbott and they became fast friends. 

What Bessie really wanted to do, though, was fly. But because she was neither a man nor white, no pilot in Chicago would train her. So, in 1920, when Abbott encouraged her to move to France, a country of fantastic aviators and comparatively less racism than the U.S., she did not hesitate.

Always a sharp mind, Coleman started and completed her training at the best French aeronautical school. She went on to receive her Fédération Aéronautique Internationale -- international pilot's license -- just one year later. She then returned to the U.S. to chase even bigger dreams.

Bessie Coleman performed in aerobatic shows in New York and Chicago, and gained a reputation as "the world's greatest woman flyer." Her dazzling performances earned her the nicknames "Brave Bessie" and "Queen Bess." But fame left her dedication to the betterment of her communities unshaken. 

She set out to start a flying school for aspiring African-American pilots, saving earnings from her aerobatic shows to fund such an academy. However, due to a series of debilitating plane crashes, Coleman tragically never saw her dream come true. On a routine maintenance test flight in 1925, the mechanic piloting the plane lost control. Coleman fell out of the open cockpit, plummeting to her death. Thousands of mourners attended her funeral to pay their respects. Many more continue to honor her today.

Fortunately, Coleman's death was not in vain. Her dream of establishing a flying school open to all races was realized just four years later, in 1929, when William Powell opened the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles, California. 

Queen Bess still serves today as a symbol to African-American communities everywhere and every year African-American pilots fly over her grave in Chicago to drop flowers in her honor. 

Brave Bessie Coleman broke down barriers of race and gender so that she might soar above prejudice. That's why she's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero. Many thanks to Roxie Munro of New York, NY, for introducing her to us.

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